After Sochi, gay sports event faces high hurdles in Russia

Reuters| Updated: Feb 27, 2014, 08:14 AM IST

Moscow: Days after the closing of the Sochi Winter Olympics, a gay sports organisation`s plan to hold Russia`s first open Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender athletic competition was under threat from bureaucratic barriers it said stemmed from discrimination.

The Russian Open games were scheduled to start on Wednesday in Moscow, but organisers were scrambling for alternatives after three venues and a hotel told them a day earlier that they would no longer be able to host the event.

A news conference called to address the issues was held outside after police informed organisers they had received a bomb threat and would not allow people to enter the gay club where it was due to have taken place.

"Our political leaders say there is no discrimination, but it is obviously discrimination when they stop us from having a sporting event," said Elvina Yuvakayeva, an organiser of the event.

Under fire before the February 7-23 Sochi Winter Olympics over a law he signed last year that critics said discriminated against gays and could encourage hate crimes, President Vladimir Putin said Russia does not discriminate.

The Russian LGBT Sport Federation was informed of the cancellations by telephone in the space of a few hours on Tuesday, she said. She said the reasons given by the hotel and venues were diverse.

Alexey Fonyatin, director of the Alant-Golyanovo sport complex where the volleyball competition was supposed to take place, said there had been a conflict with an event organised by the city.

A representative of the Baikal Hotel, where some participants were to stay, said no rooms would be available because a group of children had been unable to check out.

Konstantin Yablotsky, president of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, said sports should help people "find understanding".

"The aim of these games is to send a positive message to our society and authorities that we are normal people ... and ready for positive and constructive dialogue with society and with the authorities," he said.

Among the foreigners who came for the games was American diver Greg Louganis, an Olympic champion who is openly gay.

Organisers said there were other venues that might still be used, but it was not clear whether the games would go ahead.

"Society should understand we are a part of it. We are not marginalized," said Mikhail Tumasov of the Russian LGBT Network. "We are citizens, we play taxes we want rights and respect."